District 2 considers shifting school day school bus buses

Dorchester District 2 officials say that changing the school bell schedule could help ease transportation issues. Now, some high school students are dropped off more than an hour before the first bell.

Dorchester District 2's high school students could find themselves getting out of school later next year if a proposed new bell schedule is approved.

But they'll also be able to get a little extra shut-eye in the morning.

"I think it will be very inconvenient," said Sherri Daniels, a Summerville mother. "It will interfere with jobs and after-school activities for high-schoolers, and also cause a burden for working parents who rely on older kids to babysit or help them get younger kids home from school or to activities."

District 2 principals presented a proposal to the board at its May 12 meeting that shifts the school day for high school students, now 7:25 a.m. to 2:55 p.m., to 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The proposal also calls for changes to the elementary and middle school days. Elementary school would start 10 minutes earlier, at 7:15 a.m., and end at 2:15 p.m., five minutes later.

Middle school would start 15 minutes earlier and dismiss 45 minutes earlier, for a day that stretches from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Since the proposal was presented, the district has sought input from residents. About 4,000 people completed an online survey, and many others directly called or emailed the district office or schools to share their opinions, said district spokeswoman Pat Raynor.

"We are getting a mix of responses," she said. "A lot of folks are saying, 'Thank goodness! It's time for a change," and a lot of folks are coming from the impact on family dynamics, after-school jobs, sports and those kinds of things."

Raynor said the responses have been noted and the board will take concerns into consideration.

"If the changes do go through, there will be a different way of looking at practices and club meetings," she said. "Like, maybe some of them can be done in the morning. It's going to be a real thoughtful adjustment. This is not just a change for the sake of change. This is something that's been looked at and talked about for very valid reasons and it boils down to student learning."

The bell schedule has not been changed significantly for the 14 years Joe Pye has been superintendent, Raynor said.

Director of High Schools Elena Furnari said research shows that high school students perform better later in the day and elementary students get tired as the day goes on.

Research bears that out.

Studies by the National Sleep Foundation have shown that the natural tendency of teens is to stay up until 11 p.m. or later and sleep later in the morning.

"I like the idea of starting later," said Summerville student Emily Land. "It's hard getting up in the morning. I could go to bed at the same time, but I wouldn't have to get up as early as I do now."

Later start times for high schools lead to better attendance rates, less tardiness, and more alert and better behaved students, according to the Sleep Foundation.

"The research tells us clearly that adolescents and teens are more ready to learn when they have had adequate rest and a later start to the school day," Pye said. "The proposal will provide more than two additional hours for students to prepare for an engaging academic experience. It's really a more efficient approach to schooling."

In addition, the changed schedule helps with district bus transportation issues, Raynor said.

Many high school students now wait more than an hour after being dropped off at school until the first bell rings.

"At our high schools, the last bus drops them off at school at 6:15 a.m.," Pye said. "School begins at 7:30 a.m. So for an hour and 15 minutes these children sit doing nothing."

Also, the schedule only allows 45 minutes for buses to deliver students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The district does not have enough buses, which are provided by the state, to adequately handle the growing population, officials said. Most buses run all three routes.

"Having an entire hour to transition between grade levels will certainly reduce the number of late buses at each site," said Assistant Superintendent Linda Huffman. "Elementary students will be served exclusively by the entire fleet of buses which should enhance productivity while decreasing traffic in our community."

Responses to the survey will be compiled and brought before the board, possibly as soon as its June 9 meeting, Raynor said.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.